Do Blue Jays Need More Justin Smoak?


The Toronto Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball. They’ve scored more runs than anyone. By a lot. They’re getting big contributions from the guys they’re supposed to like Josh Donaldson and Jose Baitista. They’re also the benefactors of surprise performances by guys like Chris Colabello. Heck, even Ryan Goins has had some big games at the plate. And, yet, there is still something that Blue Jays fans are not all that happy with. That is, the playing time of Justin Smoak. With two lefties to start off the series with the White Sox, Justin Smoak found himself sitting again. So, the question is, should Justin Smoak be seeing more playing time? 

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays claimed Smoak off waivers from the Seattle Mariners in October, 2014. At the time, it seemed like an attempt to gather depth that had potential to have an impact. After all, Smoak was the center piece in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers way back when. He was supposed to be a star. A switch hitting, power bat out of the first base spot. But, he failed to deliver anything but the modest amount of home runs, which were overshadowed by his .226 avg. SO, when Alex Anthopoulos claimed him, it was thought that this would be a AAA addition at worst. Then, in December, the Blue Jays released him only to sign him to a cheaper $1M deal a few hours later.

Apparently, Smoak left more money on the table to play elsewhere because he saw more opportunity to play everyday and show the world he could contribute. In Toronto, he thought he’d have more opportunity to play.

And, here we are. Wondering if he’s benefiting from that opportunity. The duties have fallen to Edwin Encarnacion on occasion and Colabello with Smoak filling in the odd game or two. Against tough lefties like Chris Sale, Smoak found himself riding the pine. There was a long stretch earlier in the season where Smoak didn’t see any action at all. It’s this inconsistent playing time that has led fans to call for MOAR SMOAK.

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But, should manger,

John Gibbons

comply? This year, Smoak is hitting .256 (a slightly high BABIP of .343) with 8 HR and 25 RBI. Projections now have hitting anywhere from 11 to 18 HR by season’s end. And, that is why we want to see him in the lineup more often. The power is real. The power he displayed on Canada Day (below) is what has us wanting more.

But is that power enough? Is it enough to convince Gibby to play him more? Conventional thought says that Smoak would struggle against left handed pitching. And you might counter with “He’s a switch hitter. He’ll be fine.” And, for this season you might be right. Sort of. As a righty hitting against lefties, Smoak is 4/12 (.333) with 2 home runs. While that number is encouraging, we have to remember that it is a total of 12 at bats. For his career, he’s hitting .225 with 21 HR in 361 at bats. That sample provides you with a better idea of how he performs.

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  • Rather than have Smoak turn around and hit from the right side, the Blue Jays have been replying mostly on him hitting left handed against righties. In 124 plate appearances, he’s hitting .248 with 6 HR and 6 doubles. Obviously, he’s had more success. And, before we say, “Well, that’s because he’s had more opportunity there”, I’ll point out that for his career, in 1597 PA, he’s hit .226 with 61 HR. And, let’s be honest, the reason we want more Smoak is because we want more dingers.

    Because, at the end of the day, that has to be what we want. Why else would we choose Smoak over Colabello who’s got 4 HR and is hitting .375 vs LHP this season (.253 career) or Danny Valencia who is hitting .317 with 1 HR and is  a career .326 lefty masher. But, what about defense? Well, Vaencia has been worth 0 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in limited time at 1B (1 DRS in 2014), Colabello has been worth -3 DRS (-4 for his career). Smoak? Well, he’s worth 1 DRS this season, but -15 for his career.

    The fact is, Justin Smoak is a power hitter, who will not provide you with a high average. He will not provide you with many hits against left handed pitching, or any handed pitching, really. He will provide you with a big fly here and there. And, while the home runs are sexy, if you are trying to win a ball game, you probably want to go with the higher percentage of success. That is why, you will see Justin Smoak getting a lower percentage of at bats than the other options. Like it or not, the Blue Jays are playing percentages.

    Next: Episode #27 of Jays' Nest Podcast: The Trade Market

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